Women’s Day: Meet 10 women entrepreneurs who have made a mark and are going strong
Women entrepreneurship may have grown in India over the years, but it is yet to reach its full potential. According to a on women entrepreneurship in India, the country has 13.5–15.7 million women-owned enterprises, representing 20 percent of all enterprises. When provided equal access to inputs, women-owned enterprises produce equally strong economic outcomes as compared to enterprises led by men. and Bain & Company report
Michelle Obama once said there is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish, and SMBStory agrees whole-heartedly.
This International Women’s Day, SMBStory has curated a list of 10 women entrepreneurs who have created a mark in the market and are standing out despite the strong competition. Here are the stories of their grit, determination, struggle, and perseverance.
Anita Dongre - AND Designs
The women in Anita Dongre’s family all played stereotypical roles of wives and mothers. None of them worked jobs or started their own ventures. Her mother, Pushpa Sawlani, used to stitch clothes for Anita and her siblings, and this got young Anita interested in fabrics and fashion.
Growing up in Mumbai, she started noticing women who had corporate careers or were entrepreneurs. She soon realised that there was no Indian brand that made affordable workwear for them. This meant an opportunity and Anita decided to take her interest in fashion and turn it into a clothing brand for the modern, working woman.
“I started my business in 1995 with just two sewing machines and a loan from my father. My sister and I would work out of a small, 300 square foot area and make western outfits for women,” she tells SMBStory in an exclusive interview.
However, fashion stores and retail outfits rejected her designs, and mall owners refused to give her space to set up a shop. This, however, didn’t deter the headstrong youngster. “I got so angry that I decided to start my own brand,” she says.
This was the beginning of Mumbai-based ‘AND’ Designs, which, in 2015, became the. Today, it is a venture that has a multi-dimensional portfolio with brands such as AND, Global Desi, Anita Dongre Bridal Couture, Anita Dongre Grassroot, and Anita Dongre Pink City.
Chandrika Thatai - FA Home
Chandrika Thatai, who hails from a family of doctors, got married to an entrepreneur and started her own venture. Her story can give mental and spiritual impetus to a lot of women entrepreneurs struggling with concerns of setting up a business, managing cash flows, and surviving business shocks and calamities. It’s her fierce determination that led Chandrika up the path to success.
She founded Fashion Accessories (FA) Home in 2000 with Rs 25,000. The Gurugram-based company manufactures and exports home textile products such as drapes, decorative cushions, bedsheets, quilts, Christmas accessories, table linen, etc., along with fashion accessories such as belts and bags to the US, the UK, and the European markets. It is not selling in India currently.
In the early days, Chandrika failed at all sorts of challenges – cash flow management, infrastructure, etc. She lacked experience in gathering raw materials and other resources, and clients were hesitant in trusting the business.
“Looking back now, I realise that I had only two options – either going back to being a home-maker or moving forward. I chose the latter.”
Chandrika struggled for the first few years, but then when orders started shipping to the UK market and more, she earned a profit. She became more confident, which also gave confidence to her husband. Her business today clocks a turnover of Rs 290 crore annually.
Sunita Joshi -
The logistics sector in India is male-dominated. However, like their counterparts in other professions, women in this industry are steadily seeing success and growth.
Sunita Joshi (50) started Logismith in Chandigarh in 2016 after a separation from her husband. In an interaction with SMBStory, she shares the difficulties she faced while setting up the business and how she overcame the challenges along the way.
“After separating from my husband, I started the business primarily to ensure my daughter’s well-being and secure her future. When my husband and I were together, we had started a logistics company, which gave me some exposure. I thought it best to use my knowledge and skills and enter the industry on my own.”
Logismith is a third-party logistics service provider that supports last-mile operations for Amazon India and BlueDart.
Sunita faced some challenges in the initial days. She says she was often told by people that she would not survive alone in the logistics industry because she was a woman. However, she stood firm. Her mother and close friends supported her and even offered monetary support as initial capital.
Sunita launched her business operations in Chandigarh, Mohali, and Panchkula with six boys. In four years, the company now serves close to 30 upcountry and rural pin codes, including Manali, Rampur, and Bilaspur, and employs over 120 delivery executives.
Dolly Kumar - Cosmic Nutracos
After completing her bachelor's of technology in cosmetic engineering from Nagpur University in 1993, Dolly Kumar worked in various companies, including Colorbar Cosmetics. She learnt about health supplements while interacting with her clients and realised that she could launch something of her own using her experience and advice from nutritional experts.
"Around 12 years ago, we noticed that a large section of Indians was actively becoming health-conscious – a trend that had already been prevalent in developed economies for some time. We realised that people’s need to become healthier was manifesting in several ways – through proactive regular health check-ups, exercise at home, gyms, and parks, as well as a shift in dietary preferences towards healthier alternatives," Dolly tells SMBStory.
She founded Gaia as a brand under the company Cosmic Nutracos with an offline presence in 2009 and quickly transformed into a D2C business.
Today, Gaia has a presence in more than 25,000 retail outlets and over 600 modern trade outlets. It sells on ecommerce platforms like Amazon, Flipkart, Paytm Mall, Big Basket, Health Kart, Net Meds, and Jio Mart.
Vidushi Vijayvergiya -
Taking forward 160 years of family legacy in attars, Vidushi Vijayvergiya launched a brand to meet consumer demands and keep alive the history of Indian perfumery.
Vidushi, who founded ISAK Fragrances in 2017 in Lucknow, says “we have forgotten that when we buy perfume, we buy a feeling”, and instead dwell on “branded” perfumes to match our lifestyle.
“Indian perfumes are 20 percent more concentrated than French perfumes; that’s why attars are more long-lasting and strong. But people are not aware of that,” she adds.
It is difficult to market attars to people today due to their strong and natural fragrances, but she’s working on it by focusing on customers who want “something long-lasting”.
“I launched ISAK fragrance to meet this particular demand of the consumers. Indian perfumery is still not explored to its fullest. Either Indian brands have moved completely to synthetic perfumes or have not shown interest in evolving attar,” Vidushi explains.
In four years, the brand has grown and is now available in their old shop in Old Aminabad and is present on ecommerce portals like Silkayra and Story of India. ISAK Fragrances also has stores in Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Goa, and Mumbai.
Sonia Sahni - Ethiko
Sonia Sahni was studying in Spain when she developed a skin problem. The doctors prescribed topical steroids. But tired of that, she began to study organic skincare formulations and started making her own serums in 2017.
The difference in her skin was so evident that her family and friends started asking about the products she was using and began placing orders.
In 2018, when Sonia returned to India, she noticed a lack of quality night skincare products in the Indian market. This led to the birth of Ethiko.
She knew that people in Spain had liked the products and thought it was the right time to launch them in the Indian market, especially as Indian consumers were now becoming more conscious about their skin.
Sonia started selling the products from her home to family and friends in late 2018. However, there were approvals that were needed to get the business to a commercial level. Also, manufacturing and operations processes had to be put in place.
The company was incorporated in August 2019 in Mumbai with a team of three people.
Ethiko designed night serums for different skin types. The range is inspired by the Egyptians and contains geranium, which was used by Cleopatra for maintaining her youth and beauty.
Currently bootstrapped, the company claims to be growing at 15 to 20 percent per month.
Urmila and Aarti Samant -
The Indian spices market is largely dominated by the likes of Mahashian Di Hatti (MDH), Suhana Spices, and Everest Spices, but several smaller players are also making inroads into this segment. One of these companies is Mumbai-based Masala Tokri, run by mother-daughter duo Urmila and Aarti Samant.
According to Aarti, Urmila was always a passionate cook. But, in 2016, she decided to take a formal course in the art of making spices, turning her hobby into a profession. Aarti says her mother started by sharing a few mixes with friends and family, and gradually formed WhatsApp groups where she would receive orders for her masalas from different customers.
By 2018, the venture had expanded. Urmila was packing masalas and exporting them to customers in the UK, Singapore, Dubai, and the UAE. Soon, Aarti realised it was no longer possible for one person to do everything and decided to step in.
Together, they launched Masala Tokri in February 2019 as a premium-gourmet masala company.
Urmila develops and ensures that the spices reach the completion stage, Aarti takes care of the sales, marketing, and promotion-related activities.
The brand started with five basic masalas — Shahi Garam Masala, Awadhi Biryani Masala, Mumbai Pav Bhaji Masala, Kerala Sambar Masala, and Malvani Meat Curry Masala. At present, it offers about 11 products.
Aarti says the bootstrapped company clocked Rs 20 lakh turnover last year.
Dipali Mathur -
The deodorant sector is huge, but there are hardly any options for teenagers or adolescents, who have to rely on either babycare products or those meant for adults.
Dipali Mathur was on a quest for a deodorant for her teen daughter and realised the lack of age-suitable, toxin-free personal care products for adolescents. In a conversation with SMBStory, Dipali says,
“Adolescence is the formative years of life, and there are needs and demands of teenagers that we cannot ignore. While understanding the needs of my own daughter, I found that there was no brand catering to this age group. I was already running a business, and decided to research this segment.”
In 2018, with her friend Milan Sharma, Dipali launched Super Smelly in New Delhi, a 100 percent toxin-free products brand under Natturel and Kool Pvt Ltd.
Super Smelly was launched to offer healthy alternatives in personal care products to adolescents. With no brands specifically catering to this age group, Super Smelly aims to further the toxin-free movement, building a healthy future for the next generation.
At present, Super Smelly has around 18 SKUs across deodorants, face masks, face washes, hand rubs, moisturisers, lip balms, and more. The company secured its first round of funding within a year of its launch, led by Singapore-based Lyte Investment Bank.
Deepika Goyal -
Popcorn Furniture started 20 years ago when Deepika Goyal went to buy furniture for her kids and realised that there weren’t many brands making child-friendly furniture.
She recalls, “Whatever was available had pointed edges and were sharp. They weren’t the kind you would want to use for your kids.”
At present, Popcorn Furniture has become a well-known name in India as well as around the world. The company began by supplying basic furniture to schools in Delhi-NCR. It has now become a one-stop solution for many educational bodies.
Popcorn Furniture designs and manufactures and installs furniture for schools and colleges while catering to all infrastructural requirements for playgrounds, gymnasiums, cafeterias, and dormitories.
The company sources raw materials from across India and manufactures the products in its unit in Gurgaon. All production is done using machines imported from Germany.
The Delhi-based company boasts of an impressive clientele of 8,000 schools in India, including the likes of Shiv Nadar School, Amity International School, and The British School. It is also exporting furniture to schools in more than eight countries and has retail stores in Delhi, Dubai, and Cape Town.
While Deepika refuses to share the turnover of the company, she claims Popcorn Furniture was growing 15 to 20 percent every year.
Suchali Jain - Suchali’s Artisans Bakehouse
Observing the dearth of gut-friendly bread in the Indian market, Suchali Jain, who hails from a finance background, decided to start her entrepreneurial journey and founded Suchali’s Artisan Bakehouse in 2018 in New Delhi with a capital of Rs 20 lakh.
In an interaction with SMBStory, Mitali Singh, who heads the brand communication and business operations at Suchali’s Artisan Bakehouse and is also a friend of Suchali, says,
“Suchali’s trip to Europe brought a big change in her life. The experience she gained of the authentic flavours of bread in the French tradition and the baker’s art during her travel infused passion in her and motivated her to recreate the tradition and artisanship at the Bakehouse. She first found success baking croissants after which I joined her.”
At Suchali’s Artisan Bakehouse, the idea is to bring the best bread loaves and processes from abroad to India. The Bakehouse has remained profitable every month and is aiming to reach Rs 6 crore turnover this financial year. In FY20, Suchali’s Artisan Bakehouse clocked a turnover of Rs 4 crore, Mitali claims.
Edited by Teja Lele